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Worth a Thousand Words: Pass It On

Commencement is a time to celebrate the knowledge and skills that graduating students developed in their time at the UW, and to inspire them to take on new challenges and adventures.

Bryan Suzan
May 04, 2022
Grads tossing their caps

Commencement is a time to celebrate the knowledge and skills that graduating students developed in their time at the UW, and to inspire them to take on new challenges and adventures. This is the epitome of the Wisconsin Idea. The UW serves the state of Wisconsin and beyond by equipping students and faculty with the tools to pursue new research and ideas that will benefit the public. Organizations like Peace Corps at UW–Madison and the UW’s Morgridge Center for Public Service work to connect those on campus to service opportunities and communities all over the world. The Morgridge Center’s website applies the Wisconsin Idea directly to its mission, stating, “We believe that students, faculty, and staff should use the skills and talents cultivated at the University of Wisconsin–Madison to improve the state of Wisconsin, the nation, and the world.”

The UW is proud of its history of hosting commencement speakers with strong backgrounds in public service to inspire the next class of public servants. Below you’ll find a selection of commencement speakers from the past several decades who have spent their careers making the world a better place to live through diplomacy, military service, and new ideas.


Linda Thomas-Greenfield MA’75

May 2022: Linda Thomas-Greenfield MA’75— U.S. Representative to the United Nations

“We have to acknowledge that we are an imperfect union — and have been since the beginning — and every day we strive to make ourselves more perfect, and more just. In a diverse country like ours, that means committing to do the work.”


Jim Lovell x’50

December 2016: Jim Lovell x’50— United States Navy Veteran and Astronaut

“The Earth looks completely uninhabited, and yet you know that on spaceship Earth, there lives over 6 billion astronauts all seeking about the same things from life. When viewed in total, Earth is a spaceship just like Apollo. We are all the crew of spaceship Earth and, just like Apollo, the crew must learn to live and work together.”

Winter commencement address, December 18, 2016


Jake Wood ’05

December 2011: Jake Wood ’05— United States Marine Corps veteran and Founder of Team Rubicon

“You will face obstacles and choices and problems that you will not anticipate. I ask that when you see an obstacle, you climb it, when you see a choice, you make it, and a problem, that you solve it.”

Winter commencement address, December 18, 2011


Shirley S. Abrahamson DJS’62

May 2008:Shirley S. Abrahamson DJS’62— Former Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

“The question of where you are supposed to be going should occupy you all of your life.”

Spring commencement address, May 17, 2008


Florence Chenoweth MS’70, PhD’86

May 2006: Florence Chenoweth MS’70, PhD’86 — Former Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

“We must never miss the opportunity to speak out and to act where we can in support of the millions and millions that cannot act or speak for themselves.”

The Right to Food special on PBS, September 5, 2008


Tammy Baldwin JD’89

May 2005: Tammy Baldwin JD’89 — United States Senator

“And now that you’re graduating, we’re counting on you. We are counting on you to take risks, dream big dreams, and not let the naysayers rob you of your ambitions. We are counting on you to embody the Wisconsin Idea and use your knowledge for the common good.”

Spring commencement address, May 14, 2005


December 2004: Gaddi Vasquez — Former Director of the U.S. Peace Corps

“Rejoice in knowing that an education, coupled with hard work and determination, can facilitate a productive and meaningful life for you and those you love.”

Winter commencement address, December 19, 2004


Gloria Ladson-Billings

May 1998: Gloria Ladson-Billings— Professor Emerita and Former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the UW–Madison School of Education

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad, petty, unsexy ways every day.”

University of Washington, College of Education commencement speech, June 29, 2016


Brewster Shaw ’68, MS’69

May 1996: Brewster Shaw ’68, MS’69 — United States Air Force Veteran and Astronaut

“Human beings have always been explorers. Adventuring into the unknown challenges us to learn and grow. Having a vision, and the potential to realize that vision, keeps us alive and confident.”

Excerpt from “A Leap Forward: Reaching Beyond All Reasonable Bounds,” written by Shaw for the Atlantic, April 12, 2011


Lawrence Eagleburger ’52, MS’57

May 1994: Lawrence Eagleburger ’52, MS’57 — Former United States Diplomat and Secretary of State

“The resources are there if, in fact, the will is there; the issue is very much one of will.”

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